DAVID BRINKLEY, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 273 pp. $25.00 cloth (ISBN 0-679-40693-X).
This is an amiable remembrance. Despite some dark shadows--a father who died when he was eight, a mother who was cold and constrained, an ex-wife afflicted by Lou Gehrig's disease--when he writes about himself, David Brinkley's tone is like the sound of his voice: unassuming, bemused, tolerant.
He begins at the beginning and the beginning is best. Brinkley as a kid, wandering down to the docks at the end of Walnut Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, watching as bales of cotton are compressed to a third of their original size so they can fit in the hold of a freighter; watching as men shoot big ugly wharf rats with .22 rifles for amusement; watching a ship from England pull in and deposit on southern soil a sporty, snappy, MG convertible.
When David wrote a few pages for Mrs. Burrows Smith's English class at New Hanover High School, "she actually read it, commented on it, told me what she thought, and when it was good she said so and when it was not good she told me what was wrong and how to improve it." After a few months, Mrs. Burrows Smith told him, "David, I think you ought to be a journalist." And so was launched one of the more remarkable careers in twentieth-century American journalism.
Brinkley's first job was as a reporter for the Wilmington Star-News, and it's fair to say he never looked back. In the laconic voice America has come to know and love, he makes it all sound easy. And in fact his trajectory up is entirely enviable. Brinkley nearly never missed a beat, progressing from one job in journalism to the next until he reached the top of what in his case turned out to be a not particularly greasy pole.
Essentially the book moves along two paths: one news--first print, then radio, then television; and the other politics--from Roosevelt through Nixon. (For reasons not fully clear, the anecdotes stop with Nixon.) Because Brinkley was so relentlessly successful, tale number one is less dramatic than it would have been had he suffered at least a few slings and arrows. But things fell into place even before he became famous, and once The New York Times's television critic, Jack Gould, gave Brinkley a rave review for his coverage of the 1956 conventions, it was all over. Brinkley was a smash. Moreover, his coupling with the handsome westerner with the sterling voice, Chet Huntley, soon became nothing less than a legend in its own time.